Sunday, November 14, 2010


George Soros says he is “…fascinated by chaos. That’s really how I make my money: understanding the revolutionary process in financial markets.”

Some time ago I ran across this quote in an article about George Soros, the controversial billionaire investor. Mr. Soros has been financially successful in understanding and exploiting chaos and change in the world’s financial marketplace.

It occurred to me that the AEC industry, in which I’ve been immersed for over forty years as an architect and specifier, and which I’ve always found fascinating, is even more fascinating now because it's currently in chaos.

Several major waves of change are rolling through the industry, and combined, their effect is the business equivalent of a tsunami.

A few examples:
CAD to BIM Transition: Although slowed by the economic downturn, the transition from producing construction contract documents using CAD-and-word-processed-specs to BIM-and-linked-specs will eventually pick up speed. Spec writers will have to learn how to work with BIM, and to some extent BIM users will have to become de facto spec writers. This will eventually result in better contract documents because BIM will impose some much-needed rigor and consistency in the terminology we use. But the transition will be an adventure for all concerned.
Conditions of the Contract: The decades-long dominance of the AIA and EJCDC contract documents is being challenged by AGC's new "Consensus Documents" (Consensusdocs). The AGC had a series of contract documents before, of course, but now the coalition they're leading is aggressively promoting their new family of documents by drawing all kinds of organizations, including CSI, into "endorsement" of their documents, whatever that means. The AIA and EJCDC documents primarily reflect the interests of AEs and owners, and Consensusdocs presumably place primacy on the interests of builders. I predict a steep learning curve for AEs working on projects with Consensusdocs, plus some real challenges for the authors of any future updates to the CSI Project Resource Manual / Manual of Practice which has been based since its first edition many years ago on the AIA/EJCDC documents. (Here’s something for you irony fans out there to savor: The AGC withdrew from the long-established industry consensus around the AIA documents, and then named their documents "Consensusdocs".)
Green Building Issues and Goals: Consider the effect on the AEC industry of LEED, upgraded energy codes, the ambitious goals of the AIA’s 2030 Challenge, etc. The result is an increasingly complex matrix of design considerations, and more liability for AEs. Determining all the regs that apply to a new project is already much more complicated than the traditional code search, and it’s going to get even trickier in the next few years.
Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) blurs and redefines the traditional responsibilities of building owners, designers, and builders. Though IPD was conceived with the noble goal of reducing the wasteful and adversarial behavior of the players, the business consequences of its use, especially involving shared responsibility for the “model”, are only just beginning to emerge.
Paperless, Cloud-based Construction Administration Tools: Lots of potential to do things better and more efficiently; probably lots of new ways to make mistakes, too.
The economic downturn itself is suppressing project design and construction and idling thousands of persons in all parts of the AEC industry. A significant percentage of members of our CSI chapter have had serious interruptions in employment since the downturn started the pain in 2008.

If this doesn’t add up to a chaotic and revolutionary situation, I don't know what does.

I just wish I could figure out how to straighten out some of this chaos.

And make billions.

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